She had on a sexy red outfit. And her 485 horsepower 6.4 liter Hemi V8’s burble was all the temptation it took to happily hock my soul for eternity …. or at least as long as my license remains valid.
Well, ok, it wasn’t Satan that spawned her.
It was Dodge.
The Challenger R/T – this one with both the Scat Pack (6.4 liter, 485 hp Hemi V8 replaces the regular R/T’s 5.7 liter, 375 hp V8) and the Super Track Pak, which includes sideways burnout-enhancing 3.90 gears in the rear axle, mondo 20-inch wheels and tires, plus the array of “performance reporting” functions – 0-60, 1/8th mile, 1/4 mile, lateral G forces, braking forces – that come standard in the Hellcat… which is her Daddy’s car.
WHAT IT IS
The Challenger is – unlike its rivals – a muscle car.
It is a big car, first of all.
Both of which are pony cars.
They are “sporty.”
They have useless back seats and tiny trunks.
They come with four cylinder engines.
They are available as frilly convertibles.
The Dodge comes only as a hard-assed hardtop. It offers no less than a six – and has room for five adults and two more in the trunk.
The Challenger is – let’s not mince words here – a man’s car. The buyer demographics are overwhelmingly so.
It’s the sort of car that excites chicks – but they generally won’t buy one. Which appeals to men who are interested in exciting chicks.
Base price is$26,995 for the SXT trim – which comes with a 3.6 liter V6 and only with an eight-speed automatic. This is a bit higher than the base price of either the Mustang ($24,145) or the Camaro ($25,700) but you do get more car.
The hot ride, though, is the R/T – which starts out with a 5.7 liter Hemi V8 and your choice of six-speed manual or a heavy-duty version of the eight speed automatic. Base price for this one is $31,995 – less than the Mustang GT ($32,395 to start) and a lot less than Camaro SS ($36,300 to start).
But the brimstone ride is the R/T with the Scat Pack – which gets you the 392 cube, 6.4 liter Hemi and almost 500 hp and almost 500 ft.-lbs. of torque, too. To which you can add a Shaker hood scoop and a Super Track Pak (details follow).
The manual six speed version starts at $37,995 – more than the Camaro SS or the Mustang GT.
But then, you get more car… and more engine.
And more balls, too.
If you need bigger balls, there is the Hellcat version of the Challenger. $62,495 gets you 707 hp and 650 ft.-lbs. of torque. It will leave claw marks up and down your back.
Which isn’t by any means a bad thing.
R/Ts can be ordered with a functional Shaker hood scoop, just like back in the day. It sits on the engine and vibrates with the engine. Hence the name.
You can also order your car painted Plum Crazy purple, too.
Also just like in ’71.
Sidepipe megaphone exhaust tips aren’t available, though. Maybe next year.
Better than drugs – and perfectly legal to own.
Biggest V8 … in the biggest car.
The best of the bunch at reincarnating The Experience.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Use it and you will probably lose it.
Your license, that is.
Driving this car even a few MPH over the PSL is as fraught with peril as attending a social justice rally wearing a Trump! t-shirt.
It’s said that all three of these rides are “retro” but the Dodge is truer to the concept. Both the Chevy Camaro and the Ford Mustang are now available with four cylinder engines – which though powerful engines are questionable as muscle car engines.
The least you can get in a Challenger is a V6.
A pretty big (3.6 liter) V6.
It is almost twice as large as the Camaro’s new (and standard) 2.0 liter four. It also makes more power: 305 hp vs. the Chevy’s 275. However – both the Camro’s four and the Mustang’s optional four (2.3 liters, 310 hp) produce a rip-tide of torque: 320 ft.-lbs. for the Mustang and 284 ft.-lbs. for Camaro vs. 268 ft.-lbs. for the Dodge, which isn’t goosed by a turbocharger – as the other two are.
Still, fours are not sixes and muscle cars do not have fours.
But this review is not about fours, anyhow.
It is about V8s.
Because that is what muscle cars are all about.
The Challenger R/T starts with a 5.7liter, 375 hp version of Chrysler’s “Hemi” V8.
This is the mild Challenger V8.
With the 5.7 V8, the challenger R/T is capable of getting to 60 in the high fives, about a second behind the SS and the GT.
But never underestimate ol’ Scratch.
Sit by the flickering fire and unroll the parchment. Dip the quill in blood and check the Scat Pack option. Now your Challenger will swell with the power of 6.4 liters of V8 and 485 hp – outclassing both the SS and the GT.
And just like that, you are in the mid-fours.
Which, incidentally, is within striking range of the Hellcat’s run. Because the R/T Scat Pack is already on the threshold of more-power-than-you-can-put-down… and the 707 hp Hellcat is a furlong over that line.
Even with 20-inch rubber, there is only so much traction available.
There is a reason why cars with more than 500 hp are – usually – all-wheel-drive.
But 500 hp through two wheels is a lot more fun.
Here’s another measure of the Mopar’s muscle car-ness: Its miles-per-gallon. You know that sticker on the windshield? It ought to read: Who cares?
But Uncle demands the number be named. It is 14 city, 23 highway with the manual and 15 city, 25 highway with the optional eight-speed automatic.
For some perspective, consider the Subaru WRX I reviewed about a week ago (see here). It is a compact-sized car that weighs about 700 pounds less than the Dodge and is powered by a 2.0 liter four that makes 268 hp, or 217 fewer hp than the Challenger R/T Scat Pack’s 6.4 liter V8.
Guess what the Subaru’s numbers are?
18 city, 24 highway.
It is nothing short of a meer-ahkul (remember Ernest Angley?) that I am not typing this write-up in jail. Giving anyone a bright red 500 hp muscle car in a world where doing over 80 in most areas constitutes “reckless” driving is… diabolical.
And this car will do 80 without the engine even running.
Well, it feels like it.
Doing the speed limit definitely does not feel right.
Spinning the thing in cul-de-sacs until there’s so much tire smoke inside the car you can’t even tell where you are anymore.
You know you shouldn’t. You know what will probably happen if you do. But you can’t help it; you do it anyway.
She practically begs you to. That look in her eyes… the way she smiles at you. The touch of her hand…
The big Hemi – almost 400 cubes – is a very different engine than its rivals’ engines – especially the Mustang’s engine, which is one whole engine smaller (the difference between 6.4 liters and 5.0 liters; you could power a Civic with the leftover 1.4 liters).
It redlines at 6,100 – fairly low for a V8 today (but typical for the big V8s of yesterday). So it’s not necessary to wind it out to get the tail out. With almost 500 ft.-lbs. of torque and a 3.90 gearseat in the pumpkin (part of the Scat Pak) it doesn’t take much at all.
The thing is so strong, it’s a little dangerous – which is part of the fun.
Totally unlike the modulated and responsible power delivery of something like the Subaru WRX.
Even with the electronic safety nets of traction control and stability control, you need to respect the Challenger – and be prepared to deal with it. You must learn the art of the muscle car countersteer: Cock the wheel in the direction you want to keep headed as the rear of the car tries to go the other way. When you want to stop going sideways, just ease off the gas a little and the tail will snap back into line.
I rotated the front tires to the back the third day I had the car.
Now, the Camaro and Mustang will lay rubber, too. But the experience is not the same. When the Hemi roars through the Shaker scoop, it is 1971 again, there’s no EPA and Nixon’s not yet in trouble. You’d swear there’s a pair of Carter AFB four barrels under the hood – and forget catalytic converters.
But it’s not just the engine that recreates the past.
It’s the car itself.
Would body panels interchange between this car and a ’71?
They just might.
Well, they sure look like they might.
And not just minor styling stuff like the dead-ringer for ’71 chrome-plated fuel-filler door on the driver’s side rear quarter panel or the matte black trunk spoiler. The car’s entire silhouette is a near-perfect time-travel transposition. From the side or viewed head-on.
The ’71 Challenger was 191.5 inches long overall; this one’s 197.9 inches.
That’s only about six inches less long than a Mercedes S-Class, to give you some sense of scale.
A Mustang is only 188.3 inches long overall. Ditto the new Camaro.
That makes the Challenger about a foot longer than either of its pony car contemporaries.
Which gives it a heavyweight stance they lack – as well as a passenger-viable back seat with 33.1 inches of legroom and 37.1 inches of backseat headroom. The latter especially is – literally – huge vis-a-vis rivals. Mustang’s back seats have just 34.8 inches of headroom. Duck and cover. GM doesn’t even publish Camaro’s backseat legroom/headroom stats.
It’s that bad back there.
Then there’s the trunk.
You – and Satan’s daughter – could both fit in there. Fold the pass-through down and… well…
16.2 cubic feet vs. the Camaro’s pointless 9.1 cubic footer. The Mustang’s better, with 13.5 cubic feet back there.
The Challenger’s doors are huge – and the side glass is frameless – another retro touch. Unfortunately, the rear quarter-glass, though it looks like it might, doesn’t go down – as it did in ’71.
These are fixed in place.
It’d be nice if you could roll them down.
And also, see out of them.
The view to the side is badly obscured by the super-tall/anti-whiplash headrests that all new car front seats must have, because of federal fatwa. This is helpful if you get rear-ended, but the occluded view to the side that results makes it more likely you’ll be hit from the side when you pull out blind into traffic. This is not Dodge’s fault.
The dash layout/interior has been criticized for not being as wow as the outside of the car – and I agree. It’s not the same as the Charger’s – but it’s not as much like the original Challenger’s as it ought to have been.
Instead of a rack of analog gauges spread wide across the dashboard – as in the original – you have the main gauge cluster and then a single large (8.4 inch) LCD touchscreen, via which you can call up more gauges (digital ones) than would ever have fit in the dash, physically, if old-school analog gauges had been used.
But the flip side of this is you get readouts like intake manifold temp as well as a real-time engine dynamometer that shows you the Hemi’s horsepower and torque output as you drive. The Super Track Pak (no “c”) adds “performance reporting functions – 1/8th and 1/4 mile times, 0-60 times (current as well as best) deceleration, and max cornering/ sideways Gs… identical to what comes in the Hellcat.
There is also launch control, which makes near-perfect 1/4 mile and 18th mile runs as easy as standing on the gas and letting the computer manage the fine line between maximum power delivery and available traction.
And the automatic uses a drive-by-wire stubby shifter that doesn’t have the retro look or the tactile feel of the original’s slapstick shifter.
Also, the flat back glass is just dying for a set of black-out louvers.
But these things could be easily addressed.
Pop the hood and you’ll see Hemi Orange engine paint. Just like in ’71.
There is almost nothing wrong with this car.
Except for the times, which make it damned hard to use this car.
It helps if you avoid colors like red … and Plum Crazy.
Stick with silver or black.
My test car – with the Scat Pack and the Super Track Pak stickered for just over $41k. That was with the automatic. If it had been a stick shift car, the sticker would have been under $40k.
Consider that the Hellcat version (reviewed here) stickers for $20k more – and the dealer-gouged price is apt to be much higher due to the car’s exotic allure. But the R/T with the Scat Pack and the Super Track pak is almost the same same car… just 200 hp light.
All it needs is the supercharger and an ECU reflash to make up the difference.
Bet you could do that for a lot less than $20k.
And your insurance man need never know about it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Look, you go the Crossroads… and you wait. Eventually, you will hear the sound of the Hemi in the distance. Then you sign the papers… and you are his.
But it’s worth it.
Every damned second of it.
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